Detroit FLICS school's robotics team is competing for state championship

Techno Phoenix, the robotics team at Detroit’s Foreign Language and Immersion Cultural Studies School, will compete for a state championship this weekend.

"These are special wheels and they allow you to go forward and backward and turn," said Caleb Baker, a Techno Phoenix team member. "They also let you go side to side."

Their journey is not nearly as seamless as the bot they built and programmed during the pandemic when the kids were stuck at home learning remotely.

"We take the parts home, we send the parts home to the children," said Dr. Jean-Claude Quenum. "We deliver the parts and then build the robot piece by piece, from their homes."

And that, they did, eventually finding ways to practice together while remaining socially distant until the school opened back up.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

The kids of Techno Phoenix recently won the first Robotics Inspire Award a couple of weeks ago after a regional competition where at times Murphy’s Law proved more consistent than their bot.

"It was like winning the lottery after going bankrupt," said team member Leon Pryor III.

"Everything that could possibly go wrong, did go wrong," said Leon Pryor, a team coach.

But the kids stuck with it -and the judges saw what they were made of, and rewarded them for it.

"The way first robotics is structured is that the judging is weighted more heavily than the actual robot because the journey the kids take is infinitely more important than how they score at a particular match," Coach Pryor said.

FOX 2's Randy Wimbley toyed around with the robot they’ll be competing with this weekend. A battery-powered, eight-motor machine, with cameras, sensors, and the ability to operate autonomously. Think of those self-driving cars the auto world is abuzz about.

One of the tasks the robot has to perform is to collect rings and toss them into a goal.

Techno phoenix has come a long way from when they were formed three years ago, raising eyebrows at their first competitions where other students were not used to seeing kids from Detroit.

"I told the kids when we walk away, they will respect us," said Coach Pryor. "And that’s what happened: by the end of the competition, the other schools were coming by giving us awards, saying 'You’re one of the best designs we’ve seen.'

"These kids are capable, they can do it. They’re absolutely smart and clever and if you give them the resources and the opportunity, they can prove to the world they can do these things."

"You can't help but root for these kids, said Kevin Fite, DPSCD STEM Enrichment. "They have worked so hard. They had bumps along the way, but they got over those bumps and they just kept going."